I recently got a palette book online to help develop my colour skills. I’ve never really been happy with my colour skills, so I decided now was a good time to improve upon them and get a look at an expert putting together colours. One of the things I realised when looking through a book is that its easy to get anaesthetised visually. What I mean by that is we look at certain images over and over again, or certain types of images and colours and we get used to only seeing them. We grow anaesthetised to other things that are out there. Its important to look at a broad range of art and a broad range of colour palettes, because it helps to round you out as an artist. Focus is important no doubt, but its good to shake things up a bit, look at some art that isn’t perhaps your favourite thing to look at, try some colour combinations or look at some different colour combinations. What happens in this case is that while looking at things that are different you help broaden your range and insert and make new things that you perhaps wouldn’t have thought of before. Its a good way to get you out of a rut.
One of the things that I wish had been addressed more in school is the power of play or experimentation. The power of playing and experimenting is that you’re going to get much better results from doing this, instead of simply performing. What do I mean by playing and experimenting? Playing and experimenting is exactly that, playing with the materials that we have, understanding their potential as well as their limits, experimenting for how they can be pushed and interfered to create something new. Playing with composition, cutting things, pasting things, inserting things even if we don’t understand them. I often have found that if I wanted something in my artwork that there was a good chance that my brain was somewhat ahead of my understanding of it. Playing and experimenting with our work involves a degree of fearlessness, as well as telling your inner critic to shut up while you play. Sometimes we brush off the silly ideas, but what we should actually be doing is paying attention to the silly ideas as a point of entry. A lot of times when making work that is abstract is that the work that is being made has never been done before. This involves new pathways being created in the brain as you learn to see and understand from a different perspective. It requires you to ask questions about the materials, the ideas, the history and the context in which you’re placing and viewing the work.
Here are some myths that I have believed in the past about experimentation and play that I hope you can dispel in your own practice.
It’s a waste of time and resources: Its not, I understand that things are expensive, but if we set aside a portion of our time and a portion of our resources in order to play and experiment I believe that the work will be richer as well as your abilities to continue creating.
Its not valuable: It is valuable, each time we practice something a new skill, a new material, a new drawing or sketch this works towards developing our practice as an artist, our mental skills and also our general skills of working with materials. When we master or understand a material through play and experimentation we can really push it to its limits and see how to use it.
This work should be hard and not give any joy: What on earth kind of thinking is this? Artwork is not less valuable because it gave you joy to make it, why on earth are making work that we don’t want to or we get no pleasure out of? Might as well go into accounting or some other vocation that gives me misery if I keep on thinking this.
As artists we end up needing to be able to do a multitude of things for working in the real world. Portfolios need to be sent out for various shows or calls, websites need updating, pictures of our work need editing, these are just a few things that I can think of. While going through some of the adobe suite I realised that not all artists are taught about some of the professional skills that they need for living and working as an artist (whether that’s full time or part time). Here are some things that I think you should learn for enhancing your professional skills as an artist.
1) Photoshop or Lightroom: Don’t feel overwhelmed by this. You just need the very basics in this in order to edit your photos. Much can be done with the yellow to blue or green to pink adjustment as well as contrast, brightness, and saturation. If you can, its best to take photos of your work from as DSLR in raw format. This format provides you with the most digital information available in order for you to work with your images. If you don’t have a DSLR, usually the art or design department at your school will let you “rent” one. By “rent” I mean not having to pay for it. If you’re struggling in Photoshop or Lightroom, hop on Youtube. There are some great channels dedicated to helping you learn more about these editing beasts.
2) Indesign: This is available through the Adobe suite and is very practical for building portfolios, because of the ease of combining both text and photos. I find inDesign to be quite user friendly, and if you can’t figure it out, again, there are some great tutorials either on the Adobe site, or on Youtube.
3) Website: There are a lot of build your own websites with companies like Weebly, Wix and Squarespace to name a few. Why do I think its important for you to have a website? A website is a great place to put up all your work where it doesn’t expire (I’m looking at you instagram) With a website the location belongs to you and you can use the website for whatever you please, selling work, writing a blog, etc. When you build and show your practice only through social media its essentially like building on borrowed land. (Thanks for that example Jenna Kutcher) With social media you’re subject to algorithms, and the need to feed the beast everyday (again, instagram!).
A friend recently asked me if they should go into photography or stay out of it since its a pretty saturated media right now. My answer was yes, overwhelmingly yes, without a doubt yes, do it anyway yes. Why? I really believe that we are all so unique, with unique stories perspectives and loves, insights, idiosyncrasies that the world just does need another photographer. At this point, there are so many different styles out there and ways of expressing yourself with photography that haven’t been fully explored yet. I honestly have been seeing a lot of the same kind of photography everywhere I’ve been looking and yes, I think that no matter what if you want to do any kind of media you should, my one stipulation is: make it your own. Make it about what you gravitate towards no matter how weird or wonderful it is, we need your photography, not just another copy.
Focus is not something that comes naturally to me and for many other artists as well. As someone who can master most things that are handmade its easy to get distracted. Writing a thesis was particularly excruciating, because I had so many interests and thought I could make them all somehow connect. It was truly exhausting Focus is important and here are some ways that I wish someone had spelled out to me to develop focus.
1- What is the topic you're exploring?
Can you tackle it in 1-2 sentences? Do your friends eyes glaze over as you explain what you’re doing? Can grandma understand what you’re saying? Chances are no one is getting it and neither are you. Ideas in our minds take time to articulate clearly in a verbal manner. Take the time to go through what exactly you’re exploring and researching. There’s no need for flowery language, in fact I would caution against flowery language because it usually shows that you don’t know what you’re talking about. However, its good to at some point to determine what exactly you’re looking for and articulate it in a concise manner. When you begin to get deeper into research you can always go back to the sentences and ask yourself if the research fits under the umbrella of your sentences. If it doesn’t promptly discard it. Which brings me to my next point.
2- Determine what’s important
I am no stranger to idea and research overwhelm. While its easy to see how may things can connect into your topic not everything will mesh well. Its like trying to find pieces in a puzzle, sometimes a piece seems like it may fit, but there’s a little bit of forcing going on. Pick things that flow well and that you can explain. Don’t try and cram too many things under the umbrella of your topic/issue/exploration. Keep it to 2-3 things max that all relate together in a smooth flowing fashion for both your audience to understand and for you to have less headaches in disseminating/articulating. ( I did not do this and in retrospect really regret that I didn’t tone down all the conceptual relationships as it made writing and expressing my ideas very difficult).
3- Keep something for later
As you’re in the midst of building research for a body of work and in the cycle of research/explore/discover that process actually sets you up for a lot of information and inspiration. While you may have narrowed down some topics that relate to your main idea or thesis new information has cropped up and diverting your attention. Make the decision to set it aside and keep it for later. All of these ideas flying at you are fun and exciting and while you may be like bee buzzing from one flower to the next, this is actually damaging to your practice and takes up a lot of your creative energy. Put it in a notebook/sketchbook, get it out of your head otherwise it will continue to take up space, and save it for later. I repeat, save it for later.
I hope this helps guide you into bringing some focus into your practice and writing. Think of your idea as a finely sharpened point thats been whittled down from a large piece of wood. If you discard something you can always recuperate it, but simpler tends to be better.
One of my first year professors said to us once as a class that there are two kinds of artists: planners and feelers. (Just bear with me here) Feelers tend to feel their way through something, and planners tend to have a more direct plan for how they are going to get somewhere. I am a feeler, its a long process sometimes to get to where I want to be. Sometimes I don’t even know where I’m going. I might have a visual of something I want in my mind, but am unhappy with how it turns out leading me to pivot my perspective. Today was a good example. I recently found out that we have about 40 horses that have been moved to a few fields in back of our house. I have been unable to go out there for various reasons; weather, baby, time, etc. I finally went out today with my camera with the intention to photograph them. The light was not that great, the wind was bitter cold, and I’m not used to photographing moving, living subjects. (My main area of focus is landscape close-ups.) However, I began my process of photographing, zooming in where I could, getting different angles with horses that are a bit skittish at having someone invade their territory, while also watching for my own safety. Something isn’t working, it isn’t clicking right. Some of these images are beautiful, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with beautiful images. However, my aim is not for beautiful images, its for a different perspective, I want to see and show you something you didn't know, something you wouldn't see, thats where the real beauty is for me. Anyone can take a great picture of a horse, because horses are great subject matter. It takes an artist to show you what a horse is. I push on, following them as I can. I crouch down at one point so that I can hopefully get a different angle. All of a sudden the horses are curious and crowd around me. I see them in that way that I want. I see the light hitting their long, shaggy fur that’s built up from days of cold, days of rain and sleet. It ripples in the wind, but they aren’t fazed by the bitter cold. That’s it, that’s the image I want. The fur in the wind. The texture and kink in the tail, and the swirls as the fur wraps around their bodies. Instead of complaining about the conditions which are not ideal, making the conditions work for me. Pivoting from my original idea, which was barely formed anyway, seeing instead where the process takes me. If you’re more of a planner, I encourage you to let a little more process and feeling come into your work, you may be surprised at what you get.